October 17, 2010

Robert Middlemiss

A COMMON GLORY

We were boys, fourteen years old. Our teacher, Mr. Jones, was a Welshman who affected the now dated British fashion of stuffing his handkerchief into his sleeve. It was 1952. When we heard the noise it was a small jarring sound, but as Mr. Jones talked to us it grew, and we as kids who had survived the Blitz and the V1s and the V2s became uneasy. Mr. Jones kept talking, but the noise grew louder, like some jungle animal in great pain, this horrible screeching sound of tearing protesting metal. I was sitting next to the windows. Other boys got up and leaned across. Inkwells and window panes shook. Then we saw it: a US Navy C-47, 300 feet above our playground, struggling to clear the school. It dragged itself right to left, yellow flames and black smoke pouring from its left Cyclone, this great white star on its fuselage. Dirty burnt oil spattered our classroom window. Then it was gone. The next day we learned it had crashed with no survivors. No one on the ground was killed. In May, 1970, in Indianapolis, I took the oath of allegiance to the United States of America. As I took the oath, renouncing all kings and potentates, the US Navy C-47 moved behind my eyes, trailing fire and smoke, uttering its cry. And all the time, across memory, that big white star …

from Rattle #24, Winter 2005